Emily Bourke: The power of stories

Almost 100 years ago, Edith Cowan became the first woman elected to an Australian parliament, in March 1921.

In Her Seat is asking as many currently serving female politicians as we can how they view gender equality, politics and their impact.

This is a non-partisan project that is soliciting contributions from women in all parties, or none at all, in every parliament.

Emily Bourke is a Member of the Legislative Council of the South Australian Parliament. She was first elected in 2018 and is Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition.

Born and raised in regional South Australia, Emily spent her career before politics working for the local newspaper, giving her a unique insight into the issues and stories of the region.

Prior to assuming office, Emily had worked for state and federal politicians, most recently in the office of the South Australian Premier.

Emily balances interests in big public issues like economic development, health and education with the impact these have on individuals.

Other interviews can be accessed here

What does gender equality mean to you?

I look forward to a time when, having reached gender equality, this question need not even be asked.

To me, gender equality means that every person should be given the opportunities to achieve their potential — to enter and leave the workforce and engage within the community with equal dignity and respect regardless of gender.

Which female Politicians have inspired or encouraged you?

I dedicated my first speech to a woman who believed in me when I was a young and naive campaign volunteer and continues to support me today — the Federal Member for Kingston, Amanda Rishworth.

Amanda has a work ethic second to none and it is her determination to make change by listening and acting that has turned what was once the most marginal seat in the country, to now one of the safest.

Molly Byrne OAM is also a local trailblazer. My family and I have only recently connected with Molly, but my girls and I could listen to Molly’s political stories for hours. Molly was Labor’s first woman elected to the South Australian Parliament. Molly took on the challenge to win what many deemed impossible — the regional seat of Barossa. Undeterred, Molly drove down farmers’ dirt tracks and went from door to door. Molly went on to win the ‘impossible’ and remained in State Parliament for many years.

What inspired you to serve your community?

Before entering the world of politics, I worked at a regional newspaper, the Yorke Peninsula Country Times.

It was in this role I quickly discovered the power of changing lives through the simple act of sharing stories to advocate for change.

Seeing neighbours, friends and more often than not strangers come together to fight for their community is incredibly powerful.

As a Member of the Legislative Council I continue to help bring communities together to upgrade footpaths, school crossings or to fight to save a beloved community facility.

It is one of the greatest privileges seeing complete strangers come together to fight for a sole and uniting purpose — a better community.

What are the most important contributions you are making in Parliament?

For me, this comes back to my motivation to join the world of politics — creating change through sharing stories.

During the early weeks of the pandemic, I was contacted by a woman in tears. Jessica had just been advised all elective surgery had been cancelled, including her IVF treatment. Jessica was not alone. Many women in South Australia joined Jessica to share their stories. Stories of missing their chance of having and growing their families or having their chance taken away from them.

By bringing together the stories of Jessica, Karen and many other women, along with countless medical professionals who echoed their concerns, we were able to create change. The Government modified their direction on elective surgeries to permit the completion of any cycle of IVF treatment that a patient had commenced.

Seeing the impact of people coming together to share their stories and create change is what makes this a job I love!

What is next for gender equality in politics?

For the first time in the history of South Australia, women make up 50% of the Shadow Cabinet. Achieving this milestone has taken way too long, but I am proud to be part of this team.

As community leaders, we need to continue to lead by example. When we make it to the decision-making table, we must encourage other women to join us and make room for them.

We can also use policy to create change, so women can enter and leave the workforce with equal opportunities and pay.

As a mother of three daughters, I hope we keep pushing for change until future generations cannot believe that this was ever a question.

In Her Seat interviews can be accessed here

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